Every time the Dáil, Seanad or an Oireachtas Committee holds a public sitting, an Official Report is produced of everything that is said. Sheila Ryan describes the working day of a parliamentary reporter.
I arrive in the office to prepare for the day. Wednesday is the toughest day of the week for a parliamentary reporter, with numerous committee meetings in the morning, Seanad sittings and a Dáil session that stretches into the night.
I’m rostered to report the first five minutes of today’s Dáil sitting. A bell rings throughout Leinster House a few minutes before the sitting begins to summon the Deputies. I take my seat in the centre of the Dáil Chamber, in front of the Ceann Comhairle’s chair and the clerks’ desk.
The Ceann Comhairle enters, reads the prayer, announces the first item of business and calls the first speaker.
In days gone by, the parliamentary reporter took shorthand notes of the Dáil proceedings and later read the notes aloud to an audio typist. These days, the debates are recorded and converted into digital sound files. I take note of who is speaking and listen out for anything the microphones might not catch.
After five minutes, one of my colleagues enters the Dáil and sits beside me at the reporters’ desk. My “take” is over, so I leave the debate in my colleague’s hands and head back to my desk to start writing up using the sound file and my notes.
It’s not as simple as typing up every word the Members said. The Official Report is an accurate record of the debate, but we reporters have to bridge the gap between the spoken and written word. We fix grammatical errors and remove repetition, false starts, unnecessary wordiness and unfinished sentences. We check any quotations from reports, titles of Bills, place names and poetry recitations. Even the best orators are liable to a slip of the tongue, and it all has to be checked before it’s published as the Official Report.
My take document is stored in a database, where the whole team can also see it. When I’m finished, it’s passed on to the editors, who review and publish it.
It’s time to head back to the Dáil Chamber for my next take, which starts at 1.10 p.m. Leinster House is not one building, but a complex of interconnected offices, and it’s a five minute walk from my desk to the Dáil Chamber.
I get started on my second take. This time, I was in the Dáil Chamber for ten minutes, so I have two hours and ten minutes to complete the work and get back to the Chamber. If I’m quick, I’ll have time to start on the Parliamentary Questions allocated to me.
Dáil Deputies can submit questions to Ministers in writing. Every sitting day, some questions are selected to be answered in the Dáil while the remainder receive Written Answers. The Debates Office publishes these Written Answers as part of the Official Report. Today, there are 257 Written Answers to be published, and I’ve been allocated nine of them, which I format for publication and check for errors.
I’m back in the Dáil, and it’s time for Topical Issues, when up to four Deputies have an opportunity to raise issues with a Minister. For example, a Deputy might ask a Minister to intervene in a problem in a particular constituency.
After Topical Issues, a 40 minute suspension of sitting, SOS, is scheduled, to give staff a break. Today, the Dáil’s business is behind schedule, so the SOS is only 20 minutes. It’s not much time, but there’s a self-service restaurant in Leinster House where I’ll often bump into some colleagues and catch up on what else is happening in the Oireachtas.
While 14 parliamentary reporters are covering the Dáil, other reporters are logging and writing up the Seanad and committee proceedings while the editors are checking our takes and publishing them as they are ready throughout the day.
I’m back at the reporters’ desk in the Dáil Chamber. It’s Private Members’ time, when the Opposition have the opportunity to set the agenda. Today, the House is taking Second Stage of an Opposition Bill. Because Deputies take turns to speak for their allocated time, there’s not much for me to take note of at first. But when some Deputies interrupt one of the speakers, I scribble furiously trying to catch every word.
Each seat in the Dáil has a microphone which is turned on when the Deputy speaks. There are also four microphones around the Chamber which are always on to record Deputies who speak out of turn. To piece together an accurate record of this debate, I need to listen to three different recordings and use my written notes.
I’m back in the Dáil for one more take before the Dáil adjourns at 10 p.m. The business before the House is a Government motion. Opposition Members have tabled amendments to the motion, and they are pressing the amendments to a division. The debate stops, the division bells ring, and, throughout Leinster House, Deputies who are not in the Chamber drop everything and hurry to the Chamber. If they don’t get here before the doors close, they’ll find themselves locked out of the vote.
Most of today’s Dáil proceedings have already been published on the Oireachtas website, but because this part took place after 7 p.m. it won’t be edited and published until tomorrow morning.
All my takes are finished and it’s time to go home. It’s an early finish, for a Wednesday. Some of my colleagues are still at their desks and will be there for another hour or two.